The Power of the Post-Fight Interview
By Liam Lawer
“I’m the greatest fighter that ever lived, I don’t have a mark on my face and I upset Sonny Liston and I just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest! I told the world I talk to god everyday, if god is with me can’t nobody be against me. I shook up the world!”
The words belong to Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, shortly before his rebirth as Muhammad Ali. But you already knew that. The power of the post-fight interview was harnessed to its maximum on the night of February 26th, 1964, in Miami Beach, Florida, when the Louisville Lip barked this declaration over the deafening roar of the crowd. He was announcing his significance not only to the annals of heavyweight boxing, but to the future of America and the world beyond.
Of course, not all post-fight interviews can be so electrifying. They are mandatory affairs and, like many mandatories in this sport, they can be underwhelming. But a good post-fight probing can unearth the raw character of a fighter, free from the contrivances of a press-conference or other pre-arranged questionings.
Conor Benn, a fighter often maligned by the hardcore contingent, turned heads and changed opinions with his post-fight interview last November, after defeating his toughest test yet in Sebastian Formella. His performance was impressive, but his articulate anger after the bell was far more captivating, as his ire turned to fellow British prospect, Josh Kelly.
‘The only big domestic I want is Kelly, and as for people saying I’m scared and all that, stop talking rubbish. Do I look like a scared fighter?’
To even his harshest critics, he looked pumped up and angry and anything but scared.
Benn’s emotion was on full display, and again when he spoke about the sacrifices he has made to hone his craft as a fighter. It was exemplary, but calling out a prospective opponent or unburdening about homesickness during camp are not the only powers of a post-fight interview. Depending on whether the subject is the conqueror or the conquered, it can become a different beast entirely.
“Two gentlemen fought each other. I say gentlemen because boxing came from England so truly two gentlemen fought each other. Anthony [Joshua] was better today than I. All the respect to Anthony and congratulations.”
Wladimir Klitschko was a man used to winning. Before his consecutive defeats to Tyson Fury and then Anthony Joshua, he had been a dominant champion for over a decade. He had all the opportunity to make excuses after this latter defeat, and could have blamed his age, his time out of the ring, or even a mysterious injury or an unverifiable ‘bad camp.’
Instead, he took the high road by bowing out with the above words, showing tremendous class and dignity. It was not just a post-fight interview, it was a discovery that the man could meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.
Because the vanquished too often use their post-fight interviews to make lame excuses, Klitschko’s was all the more refreshing. But class can be found in victory too, with many fighters showing respect to their fallen foes by commending their toughness and ability, extending the olive branch after a hostile build up and a gruelling fight. In this sense, post-fight interviews can have power as a cathartic exercise that brings closure to the whole process.
The more entertaining corollary is the immodest winner. Full of adrenaline and feeling invincible, these fighters still have a point to prove, just like Ali in 1964. After blasting out Lou Savarese, Mike Tyson used his post-fight interview to send a message to Lennox Lewis and the rest of the heavyweight division.
“…I’m the most brutal, vicious, and most ruthless champion there has ever been…” he asserted,“…My style is impetuous. My defence is impregnable and I’m just ferocious. I want your heart. I want to eat his children! Praise be to Allah!”
That is one way of ensuring your next fight is a box-office event.
Post-fight interviews can be profound in many ways then, but some are memorable purely because they are so absurd. Boxing would not be the same sport without Larry Merchant squaring up to Floyd Mayweather, Tyson Fury serenading us all with Aerosmith ballads, or James Toney waxing about his love of fast food.
In the end, whether sublime or ridiculous, the post-fight interview is the wafer-thin mint at the end of a boxing buffet. It can be as explosive as poor Mr Creosote, or the palette cleanser after an evening of intense action. But with the attention of the spotlight and the emotions running high, it always has the potential to be powerful. You just never know who will be next to shake up the world.